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‘I want to really remember what happened’

Mayor, officials honor World AIDS Day, promise continued fight

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World AIDS Day, Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade, Whitman-Walker Health
World AIDS Day, Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade, Whitman-Walker Health

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and three members of the City Council participated in a candlelight vigil to honor World AIDS Day on Sunday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

About 75 people, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and three members of the City Council, raised candles outside a former Whitman-Walker Clinic building at 14th and S streets, N.W., on Sunday night as part of the city’s 26th Annual World AIDS Day commemoration.

“This day has been a day to remember all those who have been affected by the epidemic and to rededicate ourselves not only to continue the fight against HIV but actually finding a cure,” said Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon, who served as host of the event.

“On this World AIDS Day we have great hope and optimism that we may see the end of this epidemic in the not too distant future,” Blanchon said. “In this year we have seen tremendous advances in the fight. We’ve seen dramatic improved statistics on HIV/AIDS in our city.”

Gray, who pointed to a significant drop in the HIV infection rate in D.C. over the past several years, said he too is optimistic that a cure for AIDS could come sooner rather than later.

“It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t many years ago that we talked about AIDS being a death sentence,” Gray said. “It is not a death sentence anymore. With the advancement of pharmacology, even those who have full-blown AIDS can live a rich life. As long as the people take their medicine and stay on their regimen they can live a full and rich life,” he said.

Blanchon said Whitman-Walker chose to hold this year’s World AIDS Day vigil at the 14th and S Street site because the building at 1407 S St., N.W., was the home of the then Whitman-Walker Clinic during the peak of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and early 1990s.

He noted that Whitman-Walker Clinic, which has since been renamed Whitman-Walker Health, moved most of its patient care programs out of the 1407 S St. building in 1993, when it opened its Elizabeth Taylor Building one block away at 14th and U streets, N.W. Whitman-Walker continued to operate other programs in the S Street building until 2007, according to Whitman-Walker spokesperson Chip Lewis.

The JBC Companies real estate development firm, which purchased the 1407 S St. building along with adjacent properties, last month, installed a sculptured vertical column called the Pillar of Fire on the sidewalk outside the building. A plaque at the base of the sculpture says it’s dedicated to the “Whitman-Walker Clinic and the many health care workers who served the LGBT community in this building from 1987 to 2008, the early years of the pandemic.”

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who served as executive director of Whitman-Walker during its years at the 1407 S St. building, called on those attending the World AIDS Day gathering to remember the dedicated people who worked on AIDS-related causes in the early years of the epidemic.

“Like everybody else who is here, I want to remember. I don’t want to forget. I want to really remember what happened,” Graham said. “And when I was committing to think of the people that I wanted to mention, there became too many names. People who ought to have been with us today are not.”

Among the names Graham mentioned were Gene Frey, a Whitman-Walker official who died in the mid-1980s of AIDS and for whom Whitman-Walker’s Gene Frey Award has been named. Others named were longtime Whitman-Walker supporters and local AIDS advocates Hank Card and Dusty Cunningham, both of whom also died of AIDS.

Others attending the vigil were D.C. Council members David Grosso (I-At-Large) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). Also attending the event was Dr. Joxel Garcia, director of the D.C. Department of Health; and Michael Kharfen, acting director of the DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA).

Rev. Courtenay Miller, pastor of Norbeck Community Church of Silver Spring, Md.; and Rabbi Laurie Green of Bet Mishpachah, the D.C.-based synagogue that caters to the LGBT community, led prayers at the vigil.

Blanchon praised Graham for taking the lead in guiding Whitman-Walker through some of the most difficult times when not many other clinics and health facilities were focusing on AIDS

“In this building a small group of dedicated men and women provided care and compassion when many others would not in our community,” Blanchon told the gathering. “In the epidemic’s darkest hours these individuals gave without question what is the best of humanity – compassion, respect and love in one’s hour of needed.”

He added, “So many of those individuals are no longer with us and yet they live on in our hearts and minds. They were our partners, our family members, our friends, and our work colleagues. And today they are the light and hope that we carry forward in the quest to find a cure for AIDS.”

World AIDS Day, gay news, Washington Blade, Whitman-Walker Health

The 2013 D.C. World AIDS Day vigil drew about 75 participants. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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Virginia

Youngkin mum on whether parents should report teaching of LGBTQ topics

Republican governor on Monday touted tip line during an interview

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill in the General Assembly.

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